Thursday, May 10, 2012

Simply Healthy Eating Part 1

"As a culture we seemed to have arrived at a place where whatever native wisdom we may have once possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety.  Somehow this most elemental of activities - figuring out what to eat- has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help.  How did we ever get to the point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?"

~Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma

I think the way you grew up eating influences you greatly.  For good or for bad, how your family approached and viewed food shapes your thinking.  I was discussing this recently with my sister.  Growing up, we most definitely enjoyed tasty food cooked by both our parents. Both had a zest for enjoying good food, which I definitely inherited.  My dad has probably read Bon Appetit magazine since its inception, and cooking shows were often on our television screen when he was home.  My mom was a simple cook - for dinner she might grill up a steak or chicken on her Jenn-Aire indoor grilltop, add a baked potato and an iceberg salad with your choice of one of 87 different bottled salad dressings in the refrigerator door. :-)  However, my dad was definitely the gourmet one, devouring his magazines as well as cookbooks. He got in the kitchen whenever he could to whip up his famous Cajun meatloaf or deep dish pizza.  He just gave me some of that meatloaf recently, and it is a jewel in my freezer.  :-)

The food we ate at home was not terribly unhealthy per se, but often we lacked enough vegetable servings (my mom didn't like many veggies besides salad, potatoes and corn). And being typical American kids, we definitely defaulted to the ample supply of junk food we had easy access to all around us.  We ate sugar cereals and pop tarts, drank soda (I even drank soda after 5:30 am swim practice -unimaginable!), ate fast food often, had a cupboard full of packaged foods, and there were always plenty of goodies heaped upon us by our grandparents.  Oh, not to mention the "healthy" cafeteria food we ate weekly. 

I was smack dab in the middle of what the above quote states.  We thought it all seemed normal and didn't put much thought to what we ate.  Back before the internet, I don't think there were a lot of resources on healthy eating to be found.  If someone ground their own wheat or bought something at a "health food" store, we definitely would have viewed that as strange; "normal" people didn't do that kind of thing, only hippies. I don't think I even knew what "whole grain" even meant; Wonder bread was definitely the norm, often made into classic Jif brand PB & J's or topped with Oscar Meyer bologna, mustard, and a wisp of iceberg lettuce.  We grew up in a home with parents who always seemed to be battling the bulge, and it seemed that usually someone was "on a diet" trying to get excess weight off.  Especially my mom, who tried diet aids galore-  diet shakes, candy-style appetite suppressants, frozen diet meals, and even hypnotism at one point to try breaking cravings and making weight loss easier.

I remember the first time I was conscious of feeling "fat." It was in grammar school and all my friend wore size 10 (kids' size) "Dittos" jeans, and I wore a 12. Now, granted I think I probably around 85 pounds in 4th grade, so I wasn't exactly what you would call fat.  But I felt that way and wanted to be thin.

In junior high, to keep my weight at a svelte 110 lbs. (I'm 5'4"), my school lunch consisted of a frozen Welch's fruit bar with my friend Cheryl.   I have no idea how I functioned at school on 70 calories of zero nutrition. I remember that during the summer, Cheryl and I would take the bus to the beach from my dad's office in Century City, and for our food for the day would pack only a frozen diet shake and a spoon.

In high school, weight was never a problem, as I was a swimmer; I had a voracious appetite while training and still weighed around 115 or so.  I worked out 3+ hours a day in the pool, so nothing stuck to me.  I worked part time at Haagen-Dazs and ate 2 scoops of premium ice cream on every shift. 

I never had an eating disorder, praise God, but I was always mindful of trying and stay thin.   Even after I got married and had kids, I didn't think of eating healthy, I thought of how to stay thin.  Having 3 pregnancies in 4 years naturally put weight on, as did unhealthful habits.  And when the inevitable weight would creep on, I turned to Lean Cuisine dinners, Slim Fast shakes, and diet soda to curb that afternoon hunger. "Light" or "reduced fat" everything was on our shopping list.
I've come to realize now that for most of my life, I haven't really known what healthy meant at all.  After I married, I basically just set out to cook as I'd eaten all my life, shopping at the regular grocery store every week (with the occasional "Price Club" run), and thought it seemed normal packing my cart from the shelves of packaged foods.  A typical dinner early on in our marriage might have been (brace yourself) baked chicken with cream of mushroom soup/cheese sauce served with boxed Rice-a-Roni or white rice, an iceberg salad with Bob's blue cheese dressing (or "homemade" Hidden Valley ranch made from the packet), complete with boxed croutons.  (I apologize if this offends anyone who eats like this- but please read on to find out why I'm now criticizing it). We'd also always have a big glass of milk.  We drank (hormone-filled back then) milk with pretty much every meal, regularly ate packaged foods like breakfast cereal, mac & cheese (yes, in the blue box), packaged cookies & crackers, and drank diet soda (of course, to save calories with no thought about health). I loved to bake and thought nothing of liberally using white flour and sugar.  We made dessert a nightly habit - there was always cookies or ice cream around.  But I really didn't know any better.  Rich and I were both  definitely gaining steady weight and our family had our share of colds, flus, and minor infections those years.

Over the years, we tried the Atkins diet and the Fit for Life diet to shed unwanted pounds.  Yes, we lost weight, but going off those regimens just caused us to gain the loss back eventually, and then some.

After all this time, and with a lot of research and education, we now eat a LOT differently than we used to.  Sadly, like the quote above, we must be educated on what we eat!  We have come so far away from healthy food, and view the unhealthy stuff as "normal" and the healthy stuff as "extreme." 

So, many changes have been made in our family over time... some gradual - but some have been drastic!  More on this in part 2 coming up soon....

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katherine said...

Love this post! Can't wait for part 2!!

Michelle said...

i'm hanging on the edge of my seat :) ! After college I worked with a few families ( cooking for them) to help break them from the mold of eating this way...Can't wait to hear all the yummy stuff you are doing now.

Jessica said...

come on part two:) love learning as much as i can about healthier ways to feed my family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for not being critical about people who still eat your "old" way. I've noticed that some people are very pushy about eating only whole foods and organic food. I think it's a very good idea to eat whole foods and organic, I eat almost 90% organic (it's hard to go out to eat with church friends and eat organic). However, not everyone can afford to eat that way. Some people may live in an area where healthy food might not be readily available. Or maybe someone's husband does not want to eat that way. If your family only eats organic whole food, great. Just don't let it stop your kids from going to a friend's birthday party because they are serving hot dogs and cake made with white flour. :) Just bring your own food and don't openly criticize the host!